Written by Kai Feltham
Once again bringing together an inspired collection of the very best up-and-coming indie acts from across the UK and Europe, Neighbourhood Festival returned for its second instalment on Saturday 7th October. Headlined by Peace and Rat Boy, and with exciting sets throughout the day from the likes of The Subways, The View, Zak Abel and a special guest slot from Declan McKenna; Neighbourhood was brimming with unrivalled musical talent. Situated in and out of smaller venues centred around Manchester’s evergreen Oxford Road, Neighbourhood Festival not only represents a celebration of music, but a dedication to the traditional versatility of the intimate venue. Sure, huge arena gigs can have their appeal, but nothing truly matches the sheer energy and exhilaration of seeing your favourite band in a tight, cosy and sweat-inducing setting. All of this together, along with the countless opportunities for discovering new and exciting bands, proves that Neighbourhood Festival and its metropolitan concept is very much here to stay on the UK festival scene. Think Manchester’s answer to SXSW, but for the outrageously affordable ticket price of only £33; Neighbourhood Festival really is a no brainer.
The Howl & The Hum @ Deaf Institute
Second only to the desire for experiencing great music, our early priority was to duck out of the typically Mancunian wind and drizzle. Combining dry warmth, a refreshing beer and an indie rock discovery, the first set of the day at The Deaf Institute for The Howl & The Hum was the perfect way to begin the day. The band display a very original style, at times showing glimpses of an alt-J influence, whilst also delivering high-octane breakouts at the chorus. Frontman Sam Griffiths is full of energy, tearing into their set as he sways from side to side, bellowing out bold refrains and choruses, whilst also building an impressive rapport with the crowd considering the jarringly early start. Griffiths jokes that much of the crowd have arrived before the band’s bassist, whom has just arrived from Newcastle via Uber, leaving him the “poorest bass player” in the UK. It is a credit to The Howl & The Hum that they are able to build such a relationship with a growing crowd in The Deaf Institute for their first taste of live music for the day; becoming the first great new discovery of Neighbourhood Festival 2017. Closing with their latest single Godmanchester Chinese Bridge, The Howl & The Hum are a band for any and all fans of indie rock to check out as soon as they can.
The Howl & The Hum – Godmanchester Chinese Bridge:
Credit: The Howl & The Hum
Team Picture @ Underdog
Next on the agenda was a trip downstairs into the cellar bar Underdog, its bare walls, large dancefloor and minimal seating area conveying a particularly gritty vibe. When it comes to old school bars and music venues, Underdog shows how it should be done. Team Picture have already begun their set when we arrive, spinning intriguing webs of post-rock soundscapes led by dual guitars, eerie synths, driving percussion and male and female vocals used almost instrumentally as well as lyrically. The sound that Team Picture produce is deep and intriguing, similar at points to the likes of Massive Attack – but realistically, it is incredibly difficult to pinpoint direct comparisons to their work, as it seems so fresh and unique. Making use of a huge pedal board and their subsequent musical effects, Team Picture play a half hour set of shadowy soundscapes and soaring vocals, at times heavy, at times quiet and contemplative. Whilst the questionable sound quality of the venue might not have done them any favours, Team Picture do more than enough to keep the crowd interested and surely investigating more from the Leeds-based outfit when the day draws to a close.
Team Picture – Potpourri Headache
Credit: Team Picture
Pip Blom @ Underdog
Staying within the depths of Underdog saw the best set of the day so far from Dutch newcomer Pip Blom. With a rapidly growing interest base in her music, it is no surprise that Blom drew a much larger and more involved crowd than those gone before; and weren’t they treated. Ripping into a set full of short and sharp indie rock tracks, Pip Blom and her band are full of raw energy. The lead guitarist sways so widely that he almost falls off the stage, Pip herself is bouncing up and down and the drummer plays his kit so hard and aggressively that only two tracks into their rip-roaring half hour set sees him permanently break his largest cymbal. This though is emblematic of the excitement that the band display to being up on stage, which paired with their talent and energy will surely only serve to see them go far. Lead single Babies Are a Lie is extremely well received by the crowd, who could certainly be mistaken for a late night gig crowd, as opposed to 2pm on a rainy Manchester afternoon. For fans of the likes of Courtney Barnett and Black Honey, if you haven’t yet listened to Pip Blom then what are you waiting for? Based on the evidence of this set, anyone who is yet to do so is seriously missing out.
Pip Blom – Babies Are a Lie
The Luka State @ The Bread Shed
As the day begins to draw on and the headliners begin their sets elsewhere, the only drawback of Neighbourhood Festival is evidenced through smaller crowds for lesser known bands. Stoke based rock outfit The Luka State step on stage at The Bread Shed to what can only be described as a smattering of audience members, with only a small group of those appearing to know the tracks that they are hearing. All the same, the band dive into their set with admirable zest and excitement; at times spilling over into overly zealous acts of encouraging crowd participation. The tracks themselves are good, with the typical drive of the quintessential Northern rock band, but the set unfortunately falls rather flat. Frontman Conrad Ellis encourages sing-alongs, stands tall above the monitor speakers and repeatedly yells “come on Manchester!” It is enjoyable rock music, and harmless entertainment, but unfortunately comes across all a bit Spinal Tap. For a band that earlier received a shoutout from Philip Schofield on live television, this isn’t one to write into This Morning about.
The Luka State – Can’t Help Myself
IDER @ Deaf Institute
As day became evening, a second trip to the Deaf Institute gifted us to a spellbinding half hour set from the magnificent and criminally unrecognised duo IDER. The collaborative work of North London based pair Megan Markwick and Lily Somerville, IDER is deep, reflective and melancholic yet somehow uplifting. Their set takes in everything from bass driven textures, a cappella musical renditions and some of the most naturally high quality vocal harmonies that I think I have ever heard. Opening track, Pulse, builds slowly before a deep, dark bassline breaks through the shimmering vocal performance, and a cappella GMLAA is an outstanding reflection of the talent that the duo possesses. Nestled in the middle of their set is an entirely unexpected cover of Outkast’s Roses, transformed from an entertaining hip hop number into an otherworldly ethereal ballad. Although they battle through a couple of unavoidable technical issues, the sheer talent that IDER display sees them play one of the very best sets of the day, their vocal and musical prowess as brightly shimmering as the grandiose disco ball hanging from the ceiling. Half an hour of these two really is not enough.
IDER – Pulse
The Big Moon @ Manchester Met Students Union
As the drizzly Manchester sunset disappears and the night slowly rolls in, as do the musical big hitters. A trip across the Oxford Road to the Manchester Metropolitan University Students Union, a new venue for Neighbourhood this year, sees Mercury Prize nominees, The Big Moon, play a blistering set full of the anthems and new indie rock classics that litter their recent debut record Love in the 4th Dimension. Racing through a criminally short 45 minute set, The Big Moon’s time on stage is full of their very best tracks, and an excitable and somewhat alcohol induced crowd lap it up. Impromptu crowd sing-alongs break out during Cupid, Pull The Other One and Bonfire as lead singer Juliette Jackson saunters down towards the front rows, subsequently whipping the crowd up into a sweaty, dancing and leaping frenzy. As well as being clearly musically talented, The Big Moon display a stage presence and sense of humour that very few bands seem to have. Crucially, they don’t take themselves too seriously, which only serves to make their performances all the more fun. This is epitomised by the performance of a “little cover” as announced by Jackson, seeing the band tear into an unpredictably incredible and ingenious performance of Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart. It is weird, unexpected and incomparable – but only adds to the appeal that The Big Moon bring to their show. With only one album under their belts so far, it is inconceivable that The Big Moon are already this good but somehow, they are. On the evidence of their set for Neighbourhood Festival, The Big Moon are here to stay, and will only get better. These girls truly are bad ass.
The Big Moon – Pull The Other One
Declan McKenna @ Gorilla
Bringing our indie dream of a day in Manchester to a close sees a blistering set from the regally appointed “special guest” Declan McKenna. At the absurdly ripe age of 18, McKenna is already pulling up trees in his musical career and appears comfortably on the path to becoming one of the shining lights of British indie music for years to come. His debut record What Do You Think About The Car has already gained him a legion of devoted fans young and old, who have clearly turned up at Gorilla with the intention of having a damn good time. Asides from showing up on stage five minutes later than the scheduled start time, Declan McKenna does not disappoint, tearing through his already impressive list of recognisable singles including Brazil, Isombard and Why Do You Feel So Down. The late night crowd jump and dance in tandem dripping with enthusiasm as balloons, inflatable flamingos and flailing limbs bounce through the air in this intimate venue. If it weren’t for one persistent member of security repeatedly wading through the swaying throngs of fans, at least a third of the crowd would’ve remained on the shoulders of the others. Impressively for someone of his youth and seeming inexperience, Declan McKenna owns the stage like a veteran, working the crowd as if he was born to do so. He laughs and jokes, offering out shots of tequila to the best dancers. For someone so young to be making such waves on the indie scene is an incredible thing to see, and if this energy filled set at Gorilla is anything to go by, then Declan McKenna is set to be a serious household name on the British music scene.
Declan McKenna – Isombard
Declan McKenna’s set was the perfect end to the day at Neighbourhood Festival, a rousing success in celebrating all that is good about indie music and underground venues. In a day and age where large corporations seem intent on closing down all of the very best small venues across the country and replacing them with panoramic glass windowed, gentrified penthouse suites, Neighbourhood is a timely reminder of the incomparable joy of live music in an intimate venue. You can keep your grand arenas, stadiums and 90,000 capacity gigs. I prefer the jumping, dancing, flailing arms and mutual sweat-athon of a tiny bar. Here’s to next year Neighbourhood, and long live independent music.